Review of CPD in JIPA

J. WINDSOR LEWIS, A Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English. (Pp. xx 233. Oxford University Press, 1972.) Reviewed by J. C. WELLS, University College, London.

A comprehensive pronunciation dictionary designed specifically for non-native speakers of English is something that has long been needed. In providing it, Mr Windsor Lewis and the Oxford University Press are to be congratulated on a first-class piece of work.

As the Preface points out, the existing standard pronouncing dictionaries (Jones, 1967; Kenyon and Knott, 1953) are offered as records of facts; 'these can be of such complexity that an interpretation and to some extent simplification of these facts in the form of a limited set of recommendations can be of value to the learner'. Thus a foreign student who uses Jones' EPD to look up Asian, for example, is faced with the choice between ten different pronunciations:

Asian, -s 'eiʃən ['eiʃjən, 'eiʃĭan, 'eisĭən, 'eisjən, rarely 'eizĭən, 'eizjən, 'eiʒən].

In the book under review he is offered just Asian 'eɪʃn $ £ 'eɪʒn etc

i.e. that the usual British pronunciation has /ʃ/, but the usual American pronunciation, which has some currency in Britain also, is with /ʒ/. There is no doubt that such simplification is to the advantage of any user not particularly interested in phonetics.

The transcription employed is a qualitative one. The vowels of 'General British' (as the author calls it, no doubt to the imminent indignation of the Scots and others) are shown as follows; i, ɪ, e, æ, ɑ, o, ɔ, ʊ, u, ʌ, ɜ, ə, eɪ, əʊ, ɑɪ, ɑʊ, ɔɪ, ɪə, eə, ʊə. It will be seen that these symbols agree with those used by Gimson, 1970, except for the omission of length-marks and the choice of o, ɑɪ and eə for Gimson's ɒ, aɪ, ɛə (representing the vowels of hot, high and hair respectively). The symbol /o/ calls for some comment. The author claims that his transcription is 'fully in accordance with the principles of the International Phonetic Association and makes use of only their authorised symbols'. Yet the value assigned to the symbol [o] in the IPA always implies a CLOSER quality than that of [ɒ]; its use in place of the openmost [ɒ] thus contravenes IPA usage. It can, however, be defended as a convenient DIAPHONEMIC notation to cover both RP /ɒ/ and General American /ɑ/, which is how the author in fact uses it.

This brings us to the next point: the dictionary sets itself the task of covering both British and American standard usage. As far as possible this is achieved by a single entry to cover both pronunciation standards; otherwise a bold dollar-sign (interpretable as a creaking pun, 'American currency') introduces the American version. Alternative pronunciations are shown in lighter type, preceded where appropriate by £ or $ signs.

The three best-known differences between British and American standard usages are the vowel in words like hot, the vowel in words like ask, and the presence or absence of /r/ in non-prevocalic position. The first, as mentioned above, is dealt with by a special symbol, /o/, which is to be interpreted differently in the two accents; the subgroup of strong, etc., is dealt with by double entries, as are the ask group, thus "stroŋ $ strɔŋ etc; ɑsk $ æsk". The third is dealt with in two ways: in final position (r) denotes the /r/ present in American but contextually deleted in British, thus fɑ(r) ; otherwise double entries are used, thus "fɑm $ fɑrm".

On balance, these notational conventions constitute sensible decisions. Yet it must be said that in several respects they do violence to the phonemics of General American. For example, the well-known triplet merry-marry-Mary, of which usually two and often three are homophones in American speech, are distinguished without comment as `merɪ, `mærɪ, `meərɪ. A footnote to the endpaper diagrams rightly points out that in General American near, hair, and pure do not contain diphthongs as the term is usually defined; yet even where a special entry is used for American, as beard, scarce, etc., we are offered not the correct /bɪrd, skers/, but the hybrid /bɪərd, skeərs/. Then in words like bird the symbol /ɜ/ has to be interpreted as implying r-colouring in American but not British (in both accents the word is transcribed /bɜd/); which leads to great trouble with words like curry shown as `kʌrɪ $ `kɜɪ) and furry (`fɜrɪ for both accents). The author notes the anomaly: 'American English users may ignore [the r in 'fɜrɪ] '. Yet he does not point out the parallel implication in transcriptions such as fɜ(r) for fur. Since fur, furry and furrow differ in General American only in respect of the possible vowel after the initial [fɝ], it seems unsatisfactory to transcribe them as fɜ(r), 'fɜɪ, 'fɜəʊ. Consistency could be achieved by writing ɜr (or ɝ) in all such cases; this would yield spin-off of simpler entries for words like Goethe, masseuse, where at present a special note has to be added ('for $ this ɜ may have no r quality'). If American Alberta were represented as æl`bɜrtə, then `gɜtə for Goethe would be quite explicit; furthermore, the British/American parallelism between farm and firm would be brought out, since in each case the American version would differ from the British one by the addition of r.

The dictionary under review follows others by marking the syllabicity of syllabic consonants only when 'it would not otherwise be clear'. For a dictionary with the declared prime objective of being self-explanatory, it would surely be more sensible to mark syllabic [n] consistently as n̩. The present convention is too complicated: one doubts how many non-native users will immediately grasp the implications of kəˈmɪʃn`eə(r), compare kə`mɪʃ̩n̩ə(r), or of 'gɑdnə(r) in the face of `gɑdn. My suggested simpler convention would again obviate the need for special notes in the case of foreign words which may contravene the usual rules, e.g. débâcle, macabre.

The accents represented in the dictionary are defined as follows. 'Two broad types of English have been recorded, a British and an American. Each represents the fluent, spontaneous, everyday usage of those educated speakers on either side of the Atlantic whose speech is of the most generally accepted kind and least restricted in terms of geographical region or social grouping.' Hence the dictionary 'excludes all American pronunciations with any specific association with either the Eastern or the Southern regions of the USA ...'. For on, the main American pronunciation is given as /on/ (i.e. /ɑn/) with /ɔn/ as an alternative; for dog, fog, etc., /ɔ/ is given, with /o/ as alternative. A few cases where the common American pronunciation diverges from the British seem to have been missed, e.g. the adjective and noun alternate, usually stressed initially in American usage, but here shown only with penultimate stress. As for the British accent represented, the dictionary excludes not only 'usages of even very slightly old-fashioned types and usages of any type associated with any particular even very broad regional subdvision of Great Britain' but even 'any British pronunciations which are associated specifically and only with a public boarding-school or any socially conspicuous background'. Further, 'in general it also excludes pronunciations which clearly represent the usage solely of a relatively small minority (say, less than 20%) of British speakers'. In the absence of properly sampled surveys of course one can only hazard guesses at the number of speakers using particular pronunciations; but I wonder how on these grounds, Windsor Lewis justifies the representation of the final vowel in happy, city, valley, coffee, etc., exclusively with /ɪ/.

I would wager that a clear majority of both Americans use /i/; although /ɪ/ may very well be the best pronunciation for foreign learners to use, it is nevertheless associated on both sides of the Atlantic with social and/or regional minorities. The only RP usages that seem to have been excluded on the grounds of being too upper-class are reductions such as flʊənt, rʊɪn, ɪən (fluent, ruin, Ian); in unstressed position, though, the reduced form is the only one given, e,g. `meɪnɪə, `ɪnflʊəns (mania, influence). Yet neurology, for example, appears only as njʊə`rolədʒɪ ($ nʊə`r-); the commoner but non-public school nju`r- is not mentioned. Similarly, the upper-class rule that /ɑɪ/ yields to /ɑɪə/ before /r/ within a stressed syllable is applied, e.g. pirate `paɪərət, Irish `ɑɪərɪʃ; the commoner but non-U `pɑɪrət, `ɑɪrɪʃ are not mentioned. Even piratical is shown with the first half identical with pyorrhea. While one can justify the choice of these pronunciations for ELT purposes, I do not think one should pretend they are the usage of the majority. Generally the author has succeeded in his laudable aim of representing up-to-date pronunciations. The /lju/ variants are out for lute, absolute, etc.; -less and -ness have /ə/, not /ɪ/, as do the unstressed syllables of diet, system; visibility is ˈvɪzə`bɪlətɪ. The recommended pronunciation for deity is `deɪətɪ. Yet private appears only as /`praɪvɪt/, remember only as /rɪ`membə(r)/, and select only as /sɪ`lekt/, in spite of the inroads /ə/ is clearly making in such words. The possibility of intrusive /r/ in British pronunciation is not mentioned at all, except in the isolated case of law-abiding.

Phonological boundaries are symbolized in several different ways. Sometimes the placing of a stress mark suffices, as /dɪs`teɪst/ compared with /dɪ`stɪŋkt/; sometimes a space is used, as /'ʌn ə`merɪkən/; sometimes a note warns of the absence of an expected boundary as tea-time /`titɑɪm/ 'with /i/ short as in beat', rectangle 'with /t/ as in tangle'. I feel a note - or, better, a consistent juncture symbolization would be in order in the case of words such as forecourt /`fɔkɔt/, to warn that the first /ɔ/ is NOT as short as that of fork.

Nearly 24,000 headwords are included in the dictionary. While this is less than half the number of entries included in EPD, it should clearly be sufficient for most ELT purposes. The selection of words for inclusion is on the whole well done, though a few odd gaps occur. All 'specialized and technical expressions' have been eliminated; 'only such words and such names of places and persons as were considered to be familiar over the whole of the educated English-speaking world' are included. A detailed study of words beginning with ga- revealed the following:

(1) Words in EPD but not in this work include Gabriel, Gadarene, gaffer, Galahad, Galapagos, galena, galley-proof, Gallipoli, galumph, galvanic, Galway, gamboge, gamp, gamy, Ganges, Ganymede, garnet, Gaskell, gas-main, gas-pipe, gasteropod, Gaul, Gaumont, Gauss, Gaza, gazebo (and it might perhaps be useful for foreigners to be told that Gaul has /ɔ/, Gaumont /əʊ/, but Gauss /ɑʊ/).

(2) Words in this work but not in EPD include gaggle, gambling-den, gamma-rays, gangrenous, gas chamber.

(3) Words not in either pronouncing dictionary include Gabon, gadgetry, gadolinium, gallimaufry, gallium, gamete, game warden, gamine, gangue, gauntlet, garganey, and - shockingly - gateau. More generally, there are certain strange inconsistencies among the selection of items for inclusion in this work. Language laboratory is in, but audio-visual out; Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania, and even Zaire are in, but Botswana, Guyana, Namibia and Zimbabwe out; macrobiotic is in, but biodegradable out; courgette and hamburger are in, but avocado, pasta and cheeseburger out; pulsar is in, but quasar out; discothèque and psychedelic are in, but acupuncture, reggae, subculture and unisex are out; Oslo and Bergen are in, but Copenhagen and Stockholm are out. Indeed there are some serious omissions among place-names, among them Sydney, Detroit; Houston, Dallas, Dublin, Seattle and Leeds. For a work so determinedly up to date, one is surprised to detect a certain prudishness: it excludes not only the 'four-letter words', now no longer unprintable, but evcn such mild terms as arse, boob, coitus, graffiti. But these are very minor criticisms. Providing only that learners of English as a second or foreign language are prepared to accept a non-quantitative transcription, I would expect this book rapidly establish itself as the most popular English pronouncing dictionary.